Speak to any technology company and they all eventually raise the same problem: hiring.
The much-discussed skills gap means that demand for software engineers has outstripped supply for many years. It’s a situation that is unlikely to end any time soon.
Degrees in computer science don’t seem to be the answer, despite their growing popularity.
Computer science graduates are among the most likely to be unemployed. There’s also a huge lack of diversity among the subject’s cohorts. A mere 13 percent of computer science students are women.
It seems likely we’ll have to look beyond the traditional education sector to ensure the necessary volume and quality of future tech skills. Step forward: Makers Academy.
Makers Academy claims to be the first coding bootcamp in Europe, and the largest. It has trained over 1,500 people since launching in February 2013, cofounder and COO Ruben Kostucki tells Techworld.
The atmosphere at Makers, based near Brick Lane in east London, is one of quiet, diligent study. There are rooms full of people programming in pairs. Someone is trying to train a robot to navigate an obstacle course. A huddle of people is deep in conversation discussing project ideas.
There are no formal qualifications required to apply. Makers offers a limited number of free places to those who cannot afford to pay the usual £8,000 fee, via its fellowship, making it one of the more accessible routes into the industry. It offers a £500 discount for women, who usually comprise about a third of its cohorts, according to Kostucki.
“No matter the circumstances, if you really want to become a software engineer we can make it work,” he says.
If you don’t get a job offer within six months, Makers promises to refund your fee in full. It’s a promise they’ve yet to have to keep (admittedly as it was introduced less than six months ago).
Its clients are household names like Tesco, government departments such as the Ministry of Justice, Santander, NewsUK, Deloitte, Capgemini, Deliveroo, the Financial Times, the Economist and JP Morgan, to name but a few.
“Some get job offers before they’ve even finished the 12-week course,” Kostucki says. “We make most of our money placing developers into jobs, so we are highly incentivised to do that. Companies keep coming back because they know our devs are the best.
“We probably see one or two maximum drop out per cohort.”
The issues around formal computer science qualifications are echoed by current ‘Maker’ Marcus Kerr, who is currently completing the programme.
“While I was studying computer science I really fell out of love with the subject, it was so different to what I had expected. There was hardly any coding, and loads of theory. I wanted to be making things, not learning about making them,” Kerr says.
The application process for Makers is open to candidates of all backgrounds, but don’t be fooled: it is not easy to win a place. Roughly one in ten applicants makes it through.
Kerr got through on his second time applying, having gone away to spend a few months working on his coding.
Makers graduate Anna Holland-Smith decided to give up a career as a lawyer to become a software engineer. She finished her Makers course in August 2016 and went on to work at the BBC and now The Hut Group. She’s a great ambassador for them, describing it as “the best possible preparation you can find for a tech career”.
Holland-Smith says the course is very intensive, but basically teaches people how to teach themselves throughout a career as a software developer.
“I managed to learn four programming languages in four months, thanks to the approaches and strategies I learned at Makers,” she says.
Holland-Smith is confident that their approach can help to broaden the range of people choosing to go into the tech sector.
“There’s a perception that women and others from diverse backgrounds don’t want to pursue tech careers. It isn’t the case,” she says. “It’s just that we’re not providing them with adequate opportunities.”